What Is Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineering, in its current form, began in the early 20th century, when the first engineers began to apply scientific theory to manufacturing. Factory owners labeled their new specialists 'industrial' or management engineers.
Industrial engineering is commonly defined as the integration of machines, staff, production materials, money, and scientific methods. While many current industrial engineers still deal in these areas, the scope of their work has become more general. Today's industrial engineers work in many more settings than just factories; in recent years, fields like energy and IT have become particularly reliant on the skills of industrial engineers. These flexible professionals may also be employed in:
- Hospitals and other health-care operations
- Food processing
- Local, regional and national governments
The requirements for a college degree in industrial engineering are very diverse and, compared to other engineering degree disciplines, very people-oriented. Budding industrial engineers learn to plan, design and implement complex systems for a given industry. They do this by taking into account every conceivable variable, from budgets to machine capabilities to human imagination and error. Online degree programs in industrial engineering are increasingly available to working engineers who want to advance their careers without sacrificing valuable income and work experience by attending school full-time.
In a nutshell, industrial engineering majors learn to use engineering and scientific principles to design, manufacture, or improve systems that involve both goods and services. Industrial engineers deal with how products are created, the quality of those products, and the cost of making the products.
Industrial engineers also deal with the design and workings of the factories that make products. They design the workstations, automation, and robotics for systems all along the supply chain. Industrial engineers are often highly involved in any managerial aspects of modern businesses. These duties range from floor manager all the way up to CEO.
In addition, industrial engineers are concerned with employee safety and workplace environments. They balance the implementation of responsible processes with the other requirements of making a product or providing a service of high quality.
In today's global marketplace, industrial engineering is fast becoming international engineering. Global boundaries are diminishing, requiring industrial engineers to be fluent in foreign languages and customs. International travel could very well be the norm for engineers, as companies expand and conduct more and more business with foreign governments.
Career Education in Industrial Engineering
Due to the fact that career options are nearly limitless for industrial engineering majors, they must get a well-rounded education. This requires the study of:
- Computer systems
In addition, it is wise for the industrial engineering major to focus on the physical and social sciences, including economics.
Industrial Engineering Coursework
Students entering into an industrial engineering degree program should expect to enroll in many of these types of classes:
- Engineering Economy
- Manufacturing Processes
- Operations Research
- Industrial Cost Control
- Robotics and Automation
- Inventory Control
- Facility Design
- Organizational Management
- Quality Control
- Human Factors
- Methods & Work Measurement
- Production Control
On-Campus and Online Degree Programs in Industrial Engineering
Although some campus and online colleges offer associate degrees in industrial engineering technology, most careers in the field of industrial engineering require a bachelor's degree at minimum. Since the field is so specialized, and since proper training and education are vital to the safety of so many people, a bachelor's degree is usually required for entry-level positions. Online degrees are rarely available at this level, since so much hands-on training is required.
A bachelor's degree generally takes four years to complete. Courses typically include core engineering classes available to all disciplines in addition to specialized industrial engineering classes.
What Can You Do With a College Major in Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineers determine the most effective way to use the basics of any production - people, machines, materials, information, money, and energy - in order to make a product or provide a service. Some of the most productive and successful professionals in the industrial engineering field share many of these common traits:
- Oral and written communication skills
- Organizational ability
- Computer literacy
- A knack for designing and improving systems
- Mathematics ability
- Problem solving
- People skills
The industrial engineer provides the key to achieving the performance goals of ownership or management. Unlike engineers in other specialties, the industrial engineer is primarily concerned with increasing productivity through the management of people, the methods of organization and the available technology.
In order to solve problems encountered in product manufacturing and service industries, industrial engineers must study the product and its requirements. They use mathematical models to figure out production requirements and to design manufacturing and information systems. They develop and manage systems that aid in financial planning for individual products. This is also an effective method of cost analysis.
Industrial engineers design financial systems and improve, upgrade, and reconfigure these systems. Those engineers on the management track may also develop wage, payroll, and salary administration systems and other job performance and evaluation systems. These engineers are so deeply involved with every nuance of the corporate system that they are often the best source for overall company evaluation.
Health and safety engineers are very similar to industrial engineers. They both deal with the entirety of a production process. Health and safety engineers promote worksite safety and corporate health by applying models and systems of the industrial process. These engineers must be able to recognize and then diffuse hazardous situations before they come to pass.
In addition to manufacturing and service industries, industrial engineers apply their knowledge to a variety of industries and positions. An industrial engineering major might work as a:
- Management Engineer: The management engineer is primarily responsible for the systems and procedures that make employees more effective, individually and as a unit.
- Ergonomist: An industrial engineer who is concerned with the proper tool usage and health systems that prevent stress and injury.
- Operations Analyst: Responsible for integrating people and machines effectively and safely.
- Quality Engineer: Measures, tests and ensures the quality and safety of products or services.
Industrial engineering graduates might find themselves working on projects like these:
- Designing the admissions procedure at a hospital.
- Discovering a new way to assemble a product that will prevent worker injury.
- Representing a company in the design and construction of a new plant.
- Performing motion and time studies.
- Developing prototype units for the cellular phone car adapter market.
- Simulation modeling.
- Developing a hardware protection program for spacecraft.
- Developing a supplier quality program.
- Implementing lean manufacturing concepts.
- Developing and launching a complete material handling system.
- Developing the conceptual layout of a dockyard and ship repair facility.
- Working on a medical device to treat sleep apnea.
- Representing manufacturing and purchasing concerns on a design team.
- Teaching industrial engineering courses.
These are just a few areas in which businesses use industrial engineers. In essence, when a company functions at the highest level of productivity, an industrial engineer probably designed and implemented the systems that brought the company to that point.
Certification, Licensure and Associations
No national licensing body certifies industrial engineers. Most employers rely on the solid training that graduates receive during their degree programs. Instead, most licensing and certification is reserved for the products designed and developed by industrial engineers.
Since an industrial engineer can effectively function in any field, s/he must conform to the certification bodies that oversee his or her particular specialty. Some states do require additional licensing as an engineer. Consult your local statute and licensing boards for more information.
Industrial Engineering Associations
Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME)
The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT)
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
National Association of Industrial Technology (NAIT)
Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)
Institute of Industrial Engineers
Board of Certified Safety Professionals